Chris Johnson isn’t ready to go 'Keyshawn Johnson' in regards to wanting the football more.
The Tennessee Titans star says there won’t be any demands to just give him the you-know-what ball. He just says he and the offense have to do a better job with it when it comes to moving the chains.
If that happens, he is certain his number of carries and production will improve over the 15 attempts for 57 yards in the opener at Pittsburgh.
“Everybody knows that an offensive player is going to want the ball, but I still understand that we’ve got to be on the field more. We’ve got to convert third downs. If we do that, I’ll able to get the ball more. I can’t sit here and say, ‘Give me the ball, and we’re on the sidelines,’” Johnson said.
Against the Steelers, the Titans converted just 4 of 13 third-down chances, a number Johnson said has to improve.
“I promise you that if we complete third downs, I’ll get more touches and we’ll run the ball more, and we’ll have a more successful running game if we complete third downs,” Johnson said. “But if we continue to not get third downs, or if Coach [Mike] Heimerdinger calls plays when we’re in third-and-8, third and 9, long plays, we’re not going to get that many runs. We’ve got to execute when he calls it and complete [the play] on third down.”
So what’s a fair number of touches for Johnson, who still shares carries with LenDale White in the Titans backfield?
“I would love 25 rushes every game. I would love that. If I could get 25 rushes every game, there’s no way I won’t be successful,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he was actually surprised to find out he only had 57 yards against the Steelers last Thursday night.
“After the game, I thought I had more yards than I had. I was like, ‘I only had this many yards.’ But it goes back to that third downs and staying on the field,” he said. “I’ll get more carries if we can stay on the field. We’re working hard out here at staying on the field, and if we stay on the field, my carries will go up.”
Quarterback Kerry Collins wouldn’t mind seeing Johnson with the football a little more either.
“It would probably help. He was close to kind of getting in that rhythm the other night, and for whatever season, didn’t,” Collins said. “But I think the more we stay on the field, which goes back to making mistakes, the more we stay on the field, the more touches everybody can get.”
Last year, Johnson burst onto the scene, rushing for 1,228 yards as a rookie. That number put Johnson second among all rookie running backs, behind only the man the Titans face this week, Steve Slaton, who finished with 1,282 yards, including a pair of 100-yard games against the Titans.
And while Johnson said Slaton is a fine running back, he also said only Titans coaches deactivating him for the meaningless regular-season finale at Indianapolis kept the rookie rushing crown from being his. Slaton had 92 yards in the Texans’ season-finale to pass Johnson in the final week.
“That’s the only reason I wasn’t the leading rookie, because of all that,” Johnson said. “But he’s a good running back. I can’t take nothing away from Slaton, or Matt Forte or none of those guys. They went out and proved they were good running backs. They produced and were playmakers at this level. He made people miss, and he scored touchdowns.”
For his part, Slaton wasn’t getting into any back and forth, but admits he cherishes being the top rushing rookie a year ago, entering the NFL as a third-round pick out of West Virginia.
“I think it’s a big thing for me,” Slaton said. “Myself, being drafted in the third round and not given, not to say the spotlight, or the potential of everybody thinking I could do it. I put a lot of work in to get in position and all the hard work paid off.”
For now, Johnson is eager to make good on getting more carries, which he is confident will come as his production increases.
“I’m sure my carries will go up throughout the season. Just on my part, I can’t sit here and act like I want these carries and then I don’t produce,” Johnson said. “If they give me these carries, I’ve got to produce. I’ve got to do my part.”